Chauvet Four Horses

The Four Horsemen

Yesterday, I attended the Fourth Symposium on Social Learning Spaces at Oxford Brookes University with my boss who is, incidently, doing his masters on professional development and the use of e-portfolios. We had hoped to have come back from the symposium with lots of ideas and food for thought with regards to our University’s new £35m library and learning centre, Augustine House, that will be opened later this year.

All this talk about technology, learning, spaces and group collaboration reminded me of the twin concepts of “affinity groups” (Gee, 2007) and “affinity spaces” (Gee & Hayes, 2009) – whilst a lot of this phenomena is organically and naturally conceived under informal learning situations, might it not be slightly contrived under directed learning circumstances? I can see “strong affinity groups” developing under a shared interest and passion for “Battlestar Galactica“. How might a randomly selected group form over the shared responsibility of an assignment or project? Would they not develop as a “weak affinity group”? i.e. the group breaks up after the joint assignment is completed.

The most interesting part of the day was on the train journey back to Canterbury from Oxford. My boss was reading some papers as part of his masters and showed me a line that reminded me of a wonderfully quotable passage from Lawy (2006, p. 327, citing Biesta, 2004) that I used as part of my “Understanding Learning in the Online Environment” module assignment:

Education … is a matter of risk, trust and violence that cannot be reduced to an economic transaction. Learning is a dangerous and risky enterprise that necessarily involves some challenge to existing shibboleths and ideas, and is not something that can be planned or linked with specific and intended behavioural outcomes or objectives.

Chauvet Four HorsesAt the heart of good learning, for me and my boss at least, are those four horsemen of education: risk, trust, violence and serendipity. Youenn Leborgne (2009) writes a lovely piece in his blog about making mistakes, which most of us can relate to and beautifully encapsulates these four elements.

From my own fumblings with playing with Agatha Christie’s “Death on the Nile“, “Lost” and Clive Barker’s “Jericho” on the PC and “Fantastic Contraption“, “Four Pro“, “Blocked“, “Asphalt 4: Elite Racing“, “FSS Hockey” and “Cro-Mag Rally” on the Apple iPod Touch where I have succeeded through trial and error with the occasional flashes of pure luck and chance.

I have taken risks by having to deal with virus-infected servers – having to learn quickly once thrown in the deep end (especially as viruses were quite a new phenomena in the late 1980s / early 1990s). There have been periods of pure serendipity from chance encounters to chance readings. The violence has come from the shifting of ideas and knowledge and those once-in-a-blue-moon revelationary thoughts. Much of my real learning has been informal (i.e. self taught), situated (i.e. on the job) and experiential (i.e. hands on).

What becomes of those learners who do not take risks; who do not trust their teachers or peers; who are afraid of having world view blown apart; and who fail to see happy accidents that can occur right under their noses? What becomes of their learning and what they have learnt?


Gee, J.P. & Hayes, E. (2009). Public Pedagogy through Video Games. Game Based Learning. [online]. Available at: [Accessed 7 April 2009].

Gee, J.P. (2007). What Video Games Have To Teach Us About Learning And Literacy (Revised and Updated Edition). New York, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Lawy, R. (2006). Connective learning: young people’s identity and knowledge-making in work and non-work contexts. British Journal of Sociology in Education, 27(3), pp 325-340.

Leborgne, Y. (2009). IDGBL – Learning online. Holyrood Park blog. [online]. Available at: [Accessed 7 April 2009].